In a case brought by civil rights groups, the European Court of Human Rights ruled some British surveillance methods are too invasive and violate privacy laws.
The court said there wasn’t enough independent scrutiny of processes used by British intelligence services to filter bulk intercepted data and communications and that there was “a lack of oversight of the entire selection process” and “the absence of any real safeguards,” the Associated Press reported.
By a vote of 6-1, the seven-member panel said that Britain’s regime for getting data from communications service providers also violated the European Union human rights convention on freedom of expression, reining in the excess of the spy services that used techniques similar to those exposed by former CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
It wasn’t an all-encompassing ruling, however as the court said British intelligence services take their human rights convention obligations seriously “and are not abusing their powers,” and that it was alright for the spy agency to get intelligence from foreign spy agencies with governments insisting they need stronger surveillance methods to fight terrorism.
But civil rights campaigners who brought the case said that wasn’t so and lauded the decision.
Silkie Carlo, Director of Big Brother Watch, said the ruling “vindicates Mr. Snowden’s courageous whistleblowing,” and that, “under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public.”
The judges also noted that “the operation of a bulk interception regime did not, in and of itself, violate the convention,” but that the UK’s operation of such a regime failed to adequately implement necessary safeguards.
“This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion,” Carlo added in a statement.
Dan Carey, a lawyer for the complainants, said: “There needs to be much greater control over the search terms that the government is using to sift our communications.”
Caroline Wilson Palow, another of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said the ruling “confirms that just because it is technically feasible to intercept all of our personal communications, it does not mean that it is lawful to do so.”
The British government said it would give “careful consideration” to the court’s findings but that a new regulation has superseded a measure that was challenged in the case.
“This includes the introduction of a ‘double lock’ which requires warrants for the use of these powers to be authorized by a Secretary of State and approved by a judge,” the government said in a statement.